Blu-ray Review: Forbidden Zone / Cert: 18 / Director: Richard Elfman / Screenplay: Richard Elfman / Starring: Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Gisele Lindley, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Danny Elfman / Release Date: May 7th
A forgotten and (in the UK at least) overlooked cult film with a strong pedigree that may not be for everyone, but well worth a look for fans of the surreal and absurd. Want to see Tim Burton's preferred composer as the Devil? Of course you do, but you will have to be prepared to enter the Sixth Dimension first.
The Hercules family own a house that has a door in the basement that for some inexplicable reason leads to the Sixth Dimension. Despite being warned against going near it, Frenchy (director Richard Elfman's then wife Marie-Pascal Elfman) can't resist, and is sucked into the bizarre world where frog butlers wait on topless princesses and the King and Queen (played by Hervé “zee plane, zee plane” Villechaize and his then beau, Susan (Cry Baby) Tyrrell) eat and have misaligned coupling atop a table with a human chandelier. King Fausto takes a shine to Frenchy much to the Queen's annoyance, who tries her best to do away with her.
The rest of the family follow in an attempt to rescue Frenchy, only to experience even more bizarreness than you can shake a tail feather at.
Made as an attempt to document the on stage antics of performance art troupe The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, who updated old jazz and ragtime tunes as part of their surreal stage show. Most of the cast are members of the group, including director Elfman's little brother, Danny – you may know him as the composer of almost all of Tim Burton's films, and The Simpsons theme amongst others – who not only fronted the group well into their metamorphosis into the more regular rock group Oingo Boingo but wrote their original material too. He almost steals the show here as a Cab Calloway inspired Devil. The talent this group of odd balls spawned doesn't stop there, screenwriter Matthew Bright (on screen in two roles, one a transvestite, the other a boy who thinks he's a chicken) went onto write and direct the Reese Witherspoon classic Freeway.
The film's shoestring budget adds a lot to its charm. Sets are made from cardboard, hand painted by the crew – including Fantasy Island's Villechaize – and animated sequences in the vein of Terry Gilliam and Max Fleischer make up where the plot's more fantastical ideas could not be realised. An off the wall mix of musical and surreal comedy, channelling the spirit of Spike Milligan and Viv Stanshall, with a touch of The Monkee's Head and Frank Zappa's 200 Motels. I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't an influence on The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh.
Forbidden Zone is presented here in a stunning HD transfer, both in its original black and white format, and for the first time in the UK, a colourised version. The extras on the disc provide plenty of background info for those unfamiliar with the Oingo Boingo legacy (most of the UK probably), but you don't have to be a fan of the group to enjoy either the film or the supplements as they are just as enjoyable in their own right, and Elfman's music is as memorable as ever.
If you like John Waters, David Lynch, Rocky Horror and to walk on the wild side, then you should give Forbidden Zone a shot, if you prefer your films a little more comprehensible then you might want to avoid.
Special Features: Commentary with Richard Elfman with writer/actor Matthew Bright, behind the scenes documentary with interviews (including Danny Elfman) and archive footage, scenes from The Hercules Family, a 'lost' Elfman film, outtakes, deleted scenes, Oingo Boingo video, theatrical trailer and a promo used to introduce a Japanese screening. The packaging comes with reversible sleeve, mini poster and booklet with essays on the film and rare stills.